Post by Rimple Mehta, Book Review editor at Border Criminologies and Faculty member at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Rimple’s work focuses on the gendered experiences of mobility and incarceration of Bangladeshi women in prisons in India.
Although Border Criminologies has gone silent in solidarity with the industrial action across British Universities, we are running this post today for International Women’s Day. In so doing, we wish to draw attention not only to the roots of this day in industrial action, but also to enduring impact of gender inequality in border control. While debates rage, as they always have, about the definition and indeed borders of gender, as well as its intersections with other matters, it remains a vital factor in academic scholarship and activism, as well as in people’s lived experiences of the border. It is not only academics who are striking in Britain (and nor indeed is it only Britain where they are striking – our colleagues in Finland are on strike as well). Currently a group of women in IRC Yarl’s Wood are on hunger strike, demanding significant reform to the British immigration system. Collective action is difficult, and, costly, not just in financial terms, but in personal ones as well. Hunger strikes can be particularly dangerous. Yet as International Women’s Day reminds us, the stakes are high, and the impact, sometimes, can be revolutionary.
It was not until 1975, when the United Nations established International Women’s day, that the event took on a global meaning and form. Ever since, the forms and language of protest has changed, issues have been foregrounded based on the shifting grounds of the times we live in; but the determination of women to free themselves from various practises of the state, community, religion, race, caste which confine them, has remained strong. Some of these voices have been supressed while others have been heard. The history of International Women's Day bears witness to lives lost as well as struggles won by women over generations and over a wide range of issues. Therefore, there is often a debate whether one should 'celebrate' or 'commemorate' Women's Day.
At Border Criminologies today we specifically focus on women's struggles for freedom from incarceration and for their right to mobility. Tropes of incarceration are related to women's everyday lived realities of restrictions on their mobility. Their continuous efforts to liberate themselves from repression has been realised in some cases, for instance in Saudi Arabia, where women will take up the driving seat for the first time in history, amongst other assertion of their rights in other socio-cultural spaces. Young girls like Ahed Tamimi, 16-years-old, celebrated as the youthful symbol of Palestinian resistance, challenged the highhandeness of the Israeli soldiers while she was hand-cuffed. While women in Saudi Arabi and Palestine have claimed their rights in and from the State, autonomous movements like Pinjra Tod (Break the Hostel Locks), in India have challenged the gendered idea of security imposed on women's hostels in Universities as well as public spaces which constantly try to discipline and restrict their movement. In January 2018, in Poland, thousands of women took to the streets to claim autonomy of their bodies by claiming their right to abortion, refusing to be confined by the stereotypical roles assigned to them. While we celebrate these stories we also commemorate the struggles of Syrian refugee women, whose extreme vulnerability has made them easy prey for sexual violence and atrocities often by those who claim to 'save' them. We also extend our solidarity to those women survivors of sexual violence who are regularly locked up in the Yarl's Wood immigration dentention center in violation of the UK government's own policy against it. The struggles are therefore at an individual level as well as the level of the family, community and the state.
Women and girls make up a growing portion of irregular migrants around the world, and continue to endure immense hardship in their bid to exercise their rights. They are no longer invisible as their movement, as workers, as refugees, as partners, dependants, and students, is under exploration. Indeed, researchers have complicated the idea of the victimised woman, working towards the understanding of ‘migrants’ as social and embodied. Yet it is clear that policy has to catch up. Where progress had been made, it has tended to be in areas associated with the vulnerability of migrant women; thus actively contributing to constituting gender relations. On this International Women's Day, we celebrate and commemorate the different kinds of negotiations women make to break or mould the chains of their confinement. Through our work and that which we showcase on the blog, we remain committed to gender equality and to reflecting on whether and how our work and the work of others is able to challenge power relations and inequalities.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)
Mehta, R. (2018) International Women’s Day: As We March On. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/03/international (Accessed [date]).